When I left college in 2002 and stepped into my first professional job, I often felt as though I was working for the freedom to do what I wanted after work each day and on the weekends. I put in my eight to ten (or sometimes more) hours, so I should be able to live the life I want outside of those hours, right?
As time went on, I began to realize that sticking solely to the “working for the weekend” perspective was sinking me. While I certainly had a lot of fun in the evenings and on the weekends, whenever I would step back for a second and look at the broader picture of my life, I was losing the game.
I was accumulating debt. I wasn’t saving for a home. I was saving for retirement, but only halfheartedly.
If I kept simply working for the freedom of the weekend, I was never going to have anything else.
So I stepped back from that perspective. I began to work heavily for a broader sense of freedom in my life.
I wanted professional freedom – the ability to change course in my career if I so chose. I wanted to eventually have the freedom to not work at all. I wanted the freedom that comes with knowing that your life won’t collapse if you lose your job.
I didn’t realize it immediately, but I also wanted freedom from stuff, freedom from a sense that I had to buy things to build up my own self-worth.
Those aren’t freedoms that you win overnight. They’re freedoms that are built from years of smart financial choices.
The thing is, you don’t have to throw away the freedom of the weekend in order to have it. You just have to think a little more about the choices you make.
Do you really need that thing in your hand that you’re about to buy? Sure, you’re free to buy it… but you’re also just as free to put it back on the shelf and walk out of the store. Buying that item simply means that you’re taking away from one freedom to give to another freedom.
Life is full of choices like this. You can choose to eat at home or to take your lunch to work with you. You can choose to have your friends over for a potluck dinner and a few games of cards rather than a night on the town. You can choose to check out a book or a movie from the library instead of buying it.
Sure, sometimes you’ll want to live in the moment and do the expensive thing. That’s part of life.
Still, if I’ve learned one thing over the last decade, it’s that every choice we make involves sacrificing something, and if you keep sacrificing the same thing over and over again, it won’t be there when you need it. If you keep sacrificing your future to have fun now, you’re never going to have the future that you want.
It’s all about balance. It’s all about realizing that the hours of work you put in every day aren’t just there to cover the bills and make the weekend fun. Those hours also afford you other kinds of freedoms. You just have to decide for yourself which freedoms you want.